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DC students share the same issues as those statewide

May 26, 2008

Survey conducted to determine trends and effectiveness of programming

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Results from the student survey given last spring to Dassel-Cokato’s sixth, ninth, and 12th graders have recently been released and analyzed by district staff.

The Minnesota Student Survey has been given to 91 percent of the school districts in the state every three years by the Minnesota Departments of Education, Health, Human Services, and Public Safety since 1989.

“[The researchers] really caution us to look at trends versus specific items and numbers,” said Heidi Kepley, high school social worker.

The data from Dassel-Cokato students also compares similarly to the rest of the state and nation.

“A lot of the times in this community – with its strengths in family and the school system, which is exciting – people may think it’s insulated from at-risk behaviors kids are experiencing around the country, and we are not,” she said.

The student survey asked questions in the areas of demographics, school, activities, family and relationships, risk factors, health and safety, mental health, substance use, and sexual health and protective factors.

The survey was taken by 152 sixth graders, 179 ninth graders, and 70 seniors at DC. Questions were asked according to age appropriateness.

The purpose of the survey is to examine trends in the behaviors and attitudes of students and to better determine where prevention programming is working as well as other areas where efforts have yet to produce a positive change.

With binge drinking being a problem on college campuses across the country, numbers from the student survey indicate some of them are starting at the high school level, according to Kepley.

“Our kids are drinking,” she said.

According to the survey, 44 percent of senior males reported having had one or more drinks in the 30 days prior to when the survey was taken, as well as 37 percent of senior females.

When asked if over the last two weeks they had five or more drinks in a row, 33 percent of senior males and 24 percent of senior females had.

This is in alignment with the state average which is 34.2 percent of senior males and 24.4 percent of senior females.

What Kepley finds of significant concern is the number of kids either drinking and driving or riding with someone who has been drinking.

The survey question asked seniors, during the last 12 months, how many times have they driven a motor vehicle after using alcohol or other drugs. Fourteen percent of males said three or more times, as did 17 percent of females.

Another question was, “Do you ever ride with friends after they have been using alcohol or drugs?” Thirty-four percent of senior males said “yes” to either “rarely” or “often,” and of senior females, 38 percent said “yes” to “rarely” or “often.”

Kepley responded by stating the number of students wearing seat belts is “excellent,” but there is an alarming percentage of students who will get in a car after someone’s been drinking.

Numbers regarding sexual behavior among those surveyed in ninth and 12th grade have been quite consistent from past years, according to Kepley, but numbers regarding birth control and protection against sexually transmitted diseases are lower than what she would like them to be.

For example, only 57 percent of the 51 percent of senior females who reported having sexual intercourse, always use a condom, and seven percent have never used a condom.

Nineteen percent of the sexually-active male seniors reported never using a condom, and only half said they always use a condom.

“This is a reality check for everybody,” Kepley said.

Parents can be reassured that 60 percent of senior males and 48 percent of senior females who chose to abstain did so because they said their parents would object (77 percent of males, 71 percent of females).

Other reasons for abstaining include “I don’t think it’s right for a person my age” (63 percent of ninth grade males, 76 percent ninth grade females, 64 percent senior males, and 79 percent senior females) religious beliefs, and waiting until marriage.

New to the survey this year were questions regarding nutrition and health.

“I have a lot of concern for the health of this generation,” Kepley said.

Kepley urges everyone to look at the physical health of the community.

Physical exercise and promoting a healthy diet needs to be a priority in the school system and the community, she said. There is only one health class offered at the high school level.

One of the questions asked students if, at the present time, they thought they were either underweight, about the right weight, or overweight.

Though the majority of the students asked felt they were about the right weight, 39 percent of senior females thought they were overweight, and 15 percent of senior males. In ninth grade, 22 percent of the females thought they were overweight, and 12 percent of the males.

Dassel-Cokato’s district nurse, Kelly O’Fallon said many of the students, especially females, have skewed body images.

For example, fit, healthy girls may have a distorted body image that they are overweight, while some who are overweight don’t think or know they are.

Numbers associated with enrichment activities were also asked including how many times students participate in sports and other school activities.

Kepley says there is a variety of offerings for extroverted students such as speech, band, choir, and a wide range of sports, but not much available for the introverted students.

“We need to think ‘how do we create those activities?’” Kepley said.

She gave the example of a gamut of students interested in technology and possibly creating an activity’s that captures those interests.

“We, of course, should celebrate our successes, but we should also start thinking as a school and community, ‘what else can we be doing for these kids,’” Kepley said.

For more information regarding the student survey, contact DC Superintendent Jeff Powers.

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